Salman Abedi named as the Manchester suicide bomber – what we know about him

Manchester, UK May 23: The Manchester Arena suicide bomber had made trips to Libya, Downing Street said last night, as intelligence agencies combed his connections with al-Qaeda and Islamic State in his parents’ homeland.

Salman Abedi, 22, who was reportedly known to the security services, is thought to have returned from Libya as recently as this week.

A school friend told The Times: “He went to Libya three weeks ago and came back recently, like days ago.”
Abedi born in Manchester and grew up in tight-knit Libyan community that was known for its strong opposition to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

He had become radicalised recently – it is not entirely clear when – and had worshipped at a local mosque that has, in the past, been accused of fund-raising for jihadists.

Abedi’s older brother Ismail had been a tutor at Didsbury mosque’s Koran school. The imam last night said that Salman Abedi, who wore Islamic dress, had shown him “the face of hate” when he gave a talk warning on the dangers of so-called Islamic State.

Born in 1994, the second youngest of four children, Abedi’s parents were Libyan refugees who fled to the UK to escape Gaddafi.

His mother, Samia Tabbal, 50, and father, Ramadan Abedi, a security officer, were both born in Tripoli but appear to have emigrated to London before moving to the Whalley Range area of south Manchester where they had lived for at least a decade.

Abedi went to school locally and then on to Salford University in 2014 where he studied business management before dropping out. His trips to Libya, where it is thought his parents returned in 2011 following Gaddafi’s overthrow, are now subject to scrutiny including links to jihadists.

A group of Gaddafi dissidents, who were members of the outlawed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), lived within close proximity to Abedi in Whalley Range.

Among them was Abd al-Baset Azzouz, a father-of-four from Manchester, who left Britain to run a terrorist network in Libya overseen by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as leader of al-Qaeda.

Azzouz, 48, an expert bomb-maker, was accused of running an al-Qaeda network in eastern Libya. The Telegraph reported in 2014 that Azzouz had 200 to 300 militants under his control and was an expert in bomb-making.

Another member of the Libyan community in Manchester, Salah Aboaoba told Channel 4 news in 2011 that he had been fund raising for LIFG while in the city. Aboaoba had claimed he had raised funds at Didsbury mosque, the same mosque attended by Abedi. The mosque at the time vehemently denied the claim. “This is the first time I’ve heard of the LIFG. I do not know Salah,” a mosque spokesman said at the time.

At the mosque, Mohammed Saeed El-Saeiti, the imam at the Didsbury mosque yesterday branded Abedi an dangerous extremist. “Salman showed me the face of hate after my speech on Isis,” said the imam. “He used to show me the face of hate and I could tell this person does not like me. It’s not a surprise to me.”

Salman visited the mosque on a number of occasions to pray, but the imam insisted “he was not my friend, he is not close. I could understand that he was not happy with me because I did combat Isis in that Friday sermon sometimes”.

The imam added: “When he passed by me, we Muslims greet each other and you know he is not happy with me if he doesn’t greet you.”

At the Abedi family home in Elsmore Road, a non-descript red-brick terrace, neighbours told how Abedi had become increasingly devout and withdrawn.

Lina Ahmed, 21, said: “They are a Libyan family and they have been acting strangely. A couple of months ago he [Salman] was chanting the first kalma [Islamic prayer] really loudly in the street. He was chanting in Arabic.
“He was saying ‘There is only one God and the prophet Mohammed is his messenger’.’

A family friend, who described the Abedis as “very religious”, said most of the family had returned to Libya, leaving only Salman and his older brother Ismail behind.

“They have not been there for quite a while. Different people come and go,” said Alan Kinsey, 52, a car-delivery driver who lives across the street. Mr Kinsey’s wife, Frances, 48, a care worker, said she believed that the parents had left before Christmas and just one or two young men had been living in the property.

Mr Kinsey said a huge flag, possibly Iraqi or Libyan, had been hanging from their house. “There was a large Iraqi flag hanging out the window but we never thought anything or it,” added Mr Kinsey, “We thought it was about football or a protest at home or something.”

Neighbours woke up to the reality that the quiet young man next door had blown himself up, murdering at least 22 innocent victims.

Police blasted down the door of the family home at 11.30am. According to locals, two helicopters and at least 30 police officers in camouflage, riot gear and shields arrived for the raid.

“The police were very heavily armed. All of them. It was like something out of a war scene,” said Mr Kinsey, “It was terrifying. About thirty of them arrived in camouflage and riot gear and removed the wooden fence between two properties.

“Then they attached a black strip to the door and there was a loud explosion. The door came off its hinges. The windows were shaking. The whole operation lasted about 90 seconds.

“I didn’t see them leading anyone out of the house. I believe it was empty.”

© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2017

10 labourers killed in Gwadar as unidentified assailants open fire at construction site

At least 10 labourers were killed in Balochistan’s Gwadar district on Saturday as unidentified assailants opened fire at the construction site where they were working, Levies sources said.
Unidentified gunmen on motorcycles opened indiscriminate fire on a group of labourers working at a road in Gwadar’s Pishgan area, killing eight of them on the spot, Levies sources confirmed.

Key updates
• Two gunmen on motorbikes opened fire on group of labourers in Gwadar
• Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility of attack
• The road where labourers were working was not a specific CPEC-funded project

A spokesman for the separatist Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the incident in a telephone call to AFP.

Two of the injured labourers succumbed to gunshot wounds while they were being rushed to the District Headquarters Hospital, they added.

The tough road to corridor
Local administration official Munir Zamari told AFP there were two gunmen riding on motorbikes who opened fire on the construction workers at the site.

The assailants attacked the men at two separate construction sites three kilometres apart along the same road. They then fled the scene.

“All the labourers were shot at close range,” said senior levies official Muhammad Zareef.

A special military C-130 aircraft flew the remains of the slain labourers after funeral prayers to their hometown in Sindh’s Naushahro Feroze district.

Frontier Corps, police and levies personnel have reached the spot and an investigation is underway.

Security challenges facing Balochistan and CPEC
The shooting incident occurs as Pakistan and China inks agreements aimed at boosting cooperation in various sectors between the two countries on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum, which is underway in Beijing at the moment.

China is also developing the warm water Gwadar port, a prominent feature of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan. The CPEC project — with an investment of $46 billion and the Gwadar port as its lynchpin — is billed to be a ‘game-changer’ and manifestation of strategic partnership between Pakistan and China.

Though the road where the labourers were working was not a specific CPEC-funded project, it was a part of a network of connecting roads that are part of the corridor ─ a common target for separatists militants who view construction projects as a means to take over their land.

Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti also confirmed the death toll while speaking to DawnNews. Condemning the incident, he said, “We will not bow down before terrorists.”

The government has deployed a Maritime Security Force (MSF) and Special Security Division (SSD) to protect projects under CPEC, including Gwadar and other coastal areas, and ensure safety of locals and foreigners working on CPEC projects.

’44 workers killed since 2014′
The need to tighten security in Balochistan has grown over the years as separatist militants continue to wage their campaign against the central government for decades, demanding a greater share of the gas-rich region’s resources.

Security officials have said previously that militants trying to disrupt construction on the economic corridor have killed 44 workers since 2014, all of whom were Pakistani but often hailing from other provinces.

Armed militants attacked at labourers camp in Turbat on April 11, 2015 killing 20 labourers. The defunct Baloch separatist organization Baloch Liberation Front had claimed the responsibility for the attack. Similarly, in April this year, four Sindhi labourers were gunned down by suspected militants while working on a road that was under construction in Kharan district.

Bomb attack kills at least 25 in Pakistan’s Balochistan. Explosion hits convoy of Senate deputy chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri south of Quetta.

Islamabad, May 12 – A bomb explosion targeting a senior politician in southwestern Pakistan has killed at least 25 people and wounded 37 others, medical officials say.

The blast took place in the town of Mastung, about 50km south of Balochistan provincial capital Quetta, shortly after the end of Friday prayers, according to a government spokesman.

Senate Deputy Chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri escaped the attack with light wounds, medical officials said, but his driver and another aide in the same vehicle were killed.

“He was wounded by the blast but someone who was sitting next to him, and his driver were both killed,” said Dr Sher Ahmed, the government’s district health chief in Mastung, while confirming the death toll.

Haideri received “light wounds from broken glass”, according to Dr Shafi Zaidi, chief of the local hospital where the senator was initially treated.

At least 37 people who received serious wounds from the blast were transferred to Quetta, said Dr Ahmed. They mainly suffered from shrapnel wounds, he said.

Television footage from the scene showed several badly damaged vehicles and motorcycles, with windscreens shattered and severe blast damage visible, as the police established a cordon around the site.

Haideri himself spoke to local media over the phone while en route to the hospital, saying he was not badly wounded.

“I am fine, thank God. I have been wounded. I am being taken to the [Combined Military Hospital in Quetta],” Haideri told Pakistan’s Geo News television channel.

“The explosion happened on my car … the glass from the front windscreen hit me, and the side door also buckled after the blast,” he added.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, spokesman for the Balochistan provincial government, told Al Jazeera that the attack occurred when Haideri was leaving a mosque after Friday prayers.
“As soon as they started the journey back there was an explosion,” Kakar said.
“Law enforcement personnel are collecting evidence at the site and examining the crime scene. It would be premature to say what kind of blast it was at this stage.”
Haideri is a member of the right-wing religious Jamaat Ulema Islam party’s Fazl faction (JUI-F), and has been a senator since 2008. He has been the deputy chairman of the Senate since 2015.
He has previously represented his native district of Kalat, also in Balochistan, in the lower house of parliament.
In February, Pakistan’s Senate boycotted a UN-sponsored event in the United States in protest against an “undue delay” by the US in issuing a visa to Haideri to attend.

Four dead, at least 20 injured in UK parliament “terrorist” attack

LONDON, March 22 (Reuters) – Four people were killed and at least 20 injured in London on Wednesday after a car plowed into pedestrians and an attacker stabbed a policeman close to the British parliament in what police called a “marauding terrorist attack.”

The dead included the assailant and the policeman he stabbed, while the other two victims were among those hit by the car as it tore along Westminster Bridge before crashing into railings just outside parliament.

“We’ve declared this as a terrorist incident and the counter-terrorism command are carrying out a full-scale investigation into the events today,” Mark Rowley, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, told reporters.

“The attack started when a car was driven over Westminster Bridge, hitting and injuring a number of members of the public, also including three police officers.

“A car then crashed near to parliament and at least one man, armed with a knife, continued the attack and tried to enter parliament,” Rowley said.

It was the deadliest attack in London since four British Islamists killed 52 commuters and themselves in suicide bombings on the city’s transport system in July 2005, London’s worst peacetime attack.

Reuters reporters inside parliament during Wednesday’s attack heard loud bangs and shortly afterwards saw the knifeman and the stabbed policeman lying on the ground in a courtyard within the gates of parliament.

A Reuters photographer saw at least a dozen people injured on the bridge. His photographs showed people lying on the ground, some of them bleeding heavily and one under a bus.

A woman was pulled alive, but with serious injuries, from the Thames, the Port of London Authority said. The circumstances of her fall into the river were unknown.

Three French schoolchildren aged 15 or 16 were among those injured in the attack, French officials said.

Several members of parliament (MPs) and senior officials were caught up in the chaos. Tobias Ellwood, a junior Foreign Office minister, was pictured attempting to resuscitate a man lying unconscious, reported to be the stabbed policeman..

The attack took place on the first anniversary of attacks by Islamist militants that killed 32 people in Brussels.
Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting of the government’s crisis response committee.

“The thoughts of the PM and the government are with those killed and injured in this appalling incident, and with their families,” her office said in a statement.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said there would be additional police officers on the city streets to keep Londoners and visitors safe.

“We stand together in the face of those who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life. We always have, and we always will. Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism,” he said.

Parliament’s lower House of Commons, which was in session at the time, was suspended and lawmakers were asked to stay inside.

In a telephone call with May, President Donald Trump offered Britain the full cooperation and support of the United States, the White House said. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned the attack as “horrific acts of violence.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg were among foreign leaders who expressed shock and solidarity.

Eyewitnesses described scenes of panic during the attack.

“I just saw a car go out of control and just go into pedestrians on the bridge,” said Bernadette Kerrigan, who was on a tour bus on the bridge at the time, in an interview with Sky News.

“As we were going across the bridge, we saw people lying on the floor, they were obviously injured. I saw about 10 people maybe. And then the emergency services started to arrive. Everyone was just running everywhere.”

Polish former Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who witnessed the attack from a taxi as he crossed the bridge, said he saw five victims and made a video of the scene.

“I heard something that sounded like a small car crash. Then I looked out of the window and saw that there was one person lying on the asphalt,” he told Reuters.

“I did not see the face of the person lying on the asphalt, but the person was not moving, it was not showing any signs of life. One of the men I saw, his head was bleeding very badly. But the person I filmed — no, that person was not showing any signs of life.”

Journalist Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail newspaper told LBC radio that he had witnessed the stabbing of the policeman and the shooting of the assailant from his office in the parliament building.

“He (the assailant) ran in through the open gates … He set about one of the policemen with what looked like a stick,” Letts said.

“The policeman fell over on the ground and it was quite horrible to watch and then having done that, he disengaged and ran towards the House of Commons entrance used by MPs and got about 20 yards or so when two plain-clothed guys with guns shot him.”

In Edinburgh, the Scottish parliament suspended a planned debate and vote on independence as the news from London came in.

Britain is on its second-highest alert level of “severe” meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.

The most recent deadly attack in London to be treated as a terrorist incident was in May 2013, when two British Islamists stabbed to death soldier Lee Rigby on a street.

(Additional reporting by Kylie Maclellan, Elizabeth Piper, Costas Pitas, Alistair Smout, Michael Holden, Kate Holton, Elisabeth O’Leary, Andy Bruce, David Milliken and William Schomberg, Lidia Kelly; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Stephen Addison, Guy Faulconbridge, Giles Elgood and Catherine Evans)

ISIS Hates Our Saint Because He Belongs to Everyone

LONDON — Last Thursday a suicide bomber affiliated with the so-called Islamic State attacked Sehwan Sharif, one of the most revered Sufi shrines, in the southern Sindh Province of Pakistan, killing more than 80 people, including 24 children, and wounding more than 250.

Why the terrorists hate Sehwan is why we love it. The saint and his shrine at Sehwan belong to everyone, to Sunnis and Shiites, to Hindus and Muslims, transgender devotees, to believers and questioners alike. The inclusiveness, the rituals and music born of syncretic roots make shrines like Sehwan Sharif targets in the extremist interpretations of the Islamic State and other radical Wahhabi militants.

As a child in the late 1980s and early ’90s, I would visit the town of Sehwan with my family on our way from Karachi to Larkana, my family’s hometown. After driving along bumpy roads deserted but for palm trees and solitary men standing on the open highways selling lotus flower seeds, we would stop near the western bank of the Indus River to visit the shrine of Sehwan’s patron saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th-century Persian mystic and poet who was a contemporary of Rumi.

Qalandar, whose real name was Syed Mohammad Usman Marwandi, is adored in music and poetry as the Red Falcon. As you drive through the narrow, dusty streets of Sehwan, the air becomes perfumed with the scent of roses, sold in small plastic bags and body-length garlands that devotees lay at his tomb.

I was 7 when I first saw Sehwan during Ashura, when Shiites mourn the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain, who was killed in 680 by an unjust ruler at Karbala, in what is now Iraq.

I remember thousands of men and women together in collective, ritualized mourning in the courtyard of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine. They walked barefoot over glass and the embers of burning cigarette butts, their black shalwar kameez drenched in sweat, their palms striking their chests rhythmically. Even as a 7-year-old, I found something hypnotic, something fierce, something pure about Sehwan.

Over the years, I kept returning to Sehwan to sit in that courtyard, the shrine illuminated by red and green fairy lights, its golden dome and turquoise minarets soaring above a town of modest roofs.

The cool tiled floor of the shrine is often carpeted with devotees, some carrying tiffins of food on outings with their children, others in fraying and torn shalwar kameez prostrate in prayer. Even wealthy urbanites visit to lay their anxieties at the feet of the buried saint, tiptoeing gingerly through the crowds. In a country built and maintained on immovable divisions of ethnicity, gender, class and belief, the shrine at Sehwan welcomed all. It was an egalitarian oasis formed by the legacies and practice of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism merging into one.
On Thursday evenings people congregate to listen to the religious songs called qawwali and perform a devotional dance, dhamal. They arrive with offerings of bruised rose petals, sugared almonds and what money they can spare. They seek solace from their pain; pray for safety in a harsh, unjust world; beg for an answer to a forgotten prayer. Those who can’t offer anything arrive empty-handed. Sehwan’s shrine promised the weak, the worried and the poor that they would always be safe here.

Every time we visited the shrine, a deaf and mute man named Goonga welcomed my brother, Zulfi, and me. A servant and a guardian of the shrine, Goonga wore his hair in a turban and had a matted beard. On the breast pocket of his shalwar kameez, he sometimes wore a picture of Hussain. Goonga would walk us through the shrine that was his home and refuge.

In the courtyard of the shrine, men in flowing robes and long dreadlocks sing:
Shahbaz Qalandar – Qawwali journey to Sehwan Sharif with Fanna-Fi-Allah Video by Tahir Faridi Qawwal
O laal meri pat rakhio bala Jhoole Laalan,
Sindhri da Sehwan da, sakhi Shahbaaz Qalandar,
Dama dam mast Qalandar,
which translates to:
O red-robed, protect me always, Jhule Lal,
Friend of Sindh, of Sehwan, God-intoxicated Qalandar,
Every breath intoxicated by you, Qalandar.
No matter how far from Sehwan I have traveled, how far from lands where Urdu is spoken and heard, just to hear “Dama dam mast Qalandar” is to be transported home.

My brother called me after the attack on the shrine. “Goonga,” he asked. “Is he alive?” We were trying to find out. But no one had seen Goonga since the blast. We Pakistanis always believed our saints protected us. In Karachi, where we live by the sea, we believe that the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, overlooking the Arabian Sea shore, saved the city from cyclones and tsunamis.

Before Qalandar arrived here, before Islam came to the subcontinent, Sehwan was known as Shivistan after the Hindu god Shiva. In time, the town’s name was changed, but Sindh has long remained a home to all faiths. At the annual festival of Qalandar, a Hindu and a Muslim family together drape a ceremonial cloth over Qalandar’s grave. A lamp-lighting ceremony reminiscent of Hindu rites is also performed.

The shrine in Sehwan was attacked because it belongs to an open, inclusive tradition that some in Pakistan would rather forget than honor. Though it was founded as a sanctuary for Muslims, in its early incarnation, Pakistan was a home for all those who wished to claim it. Parsis, Sikhs, Christians and Jews remained in Pakistan after the bloody Partition in 1947.

Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s brutal military dictator in the 1980s, aided by Saudi money and supported by the United States, destroyed Pakistan’s progressive, syncretic culture. In the 11 years that General Zia presided over Pakistan, our textbooks were rewritten, exclusionary, intolerant laws were passed, and primacy was given to the bearers of a closed, violent worldview. Pakistan never recovered. Only pockets of the country still imbibe the generous welcome once afforded to all faiths. Sehwan is one of them.

After the attack, Pakistan’s military closed the border with Afghanistan and complained that the attackers had been given haven in Afghanistan. In retaliation, 100 people accused of being terrorists have been killed by the military.

Sehwan has no proper hospital, no trauma centers. For all its historical, religious and cultural significance, it was — like so much of this wounded country — abandoned by those who rule the province. There is no real governance here, no justice and no order. For life’s basic necessities, people must supplicate themselves before dead saints.

On the morning after the blast, the caretaker rang the bell, just as he always had. Devotees broke through the police cordons and returned to dance the dhamal on Saturday. Zulfi texted, “Goonga is alive.”

On my last visit to the shrine, after Goonga walked me through the crowded marketplace selling food and offerings, I sat on the floor besides a mother who had brought her son, crippled with polio, in the hopes that her prayers would ease his suffering. I had come to the shrine to see the blue and white floral kashi tiles, to walk around the perimeter and to be in a part of Pakistan that still operated on that rarest of currencies: hope.

Fatima Bhutto is the author of the memoir “Songs of Blood and Sword,” about the Bhutto political family, and the novel “Shadow of the Crescent Moon.”

Kabul ready to talk intelligence cooperation with Pakistan ‘at any level’: Afghan official

KABUL, Feb 21: Afghanistan is ready to hold dialogue with Pakistan for intelligence cooperation at ‘any level’, an Afghan security official has told members of the Pak-Afghan track-II dialogue in Kabul.

The Afghan official, speaking informally and off-the-record, said senior security officials of the two countries had planned a ‘interaction’ but three major attacks in Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand on January 10 delayed the process. Nearly 60 people, including five UAE diplomats were killed in the attacks. The UAE ambassador, who was injured in the blast, died of wounds last week.

The remarks by the Afghan security official came amid growing tensions over the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan last week, which claimed the lives of about 100 people and injured over 300 more.

“We are ready for deep discussions on intelligence cooperation. We need a better environment. We need engagement. But only meetings and shaking hands will not give results. Sincere and effective engagement is a must to remove the mistrust,” the Afghan official told members of the dialogue titled ‘Beyond Boundaries’ which concluded on Monday.

President Ashraf Ghani had put a pause on a memorandum of understanding between the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 2015. As the two sides struck the ground-breaking agreement to share intelligence and resources to combat terrorism, it was opposed in Afghanistan and some leaders, including Hamid Karzai, publicly opposed the deal as against the ‘national interests’. Afghan media had also reported then NDS Chief Rahmatullah Nabil had refused to sign the accord.

But the Afghan official said that Kabul is open for talks on intelligence cooperation at any level to explore options how to deal with the security challenges. “We also want Pakistan to extend its counter terrorism strategy to the region,” he said.

“Pakistan may be concerned only about TTP, China has apprehensions about ETIM, Arab states will be worried about Da’ish and al Qaeda, Iran may have fears about Jundullah, Uzbekistan would expect dangers of IMU but Afghanistan is fighting against nearly 30 groups.” He claimed that the Afghan Taliban have provided space to many of these groups as they all have same approach.

The Afghan official said bilateral track for Pakistan and Afghanistan is the best option to deal with the security problems and end violence in both countries as ‘no one will bring stability for us’.
He also renewed Kabul’s suggestion for a third party’s verification of the claims by both countries about the presence of the armed groups on both side of the border. The verification could either be by the US or China, he said.

On peace talks with the Taliban, he said peace dialogue is more important to Afghanistan but “we want action to be taken against the Taliban if they decline the dialogue.”

Trainer of suicide bombers killed in artillery shelling by Pakistan army

ISLAMABAD, Feb 18: Nearly a dozen training camps and hideouts of terrorist groups have been destroyed and over a dozen terrorists – including a top trainer of suicide bombers – have been killed in two days of artillery shelling by Pakistan’s military, Afghan sources confirmed on Saturday.

The confirmation came hours after Kabul summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to lodge a protest over what it called ‘cross-border rocket firing’. A day earlier, sources said four training compounds of the outlawed Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) terrorist group had been decimated in the areas opposite Mohmand and Khyber agencies.

According to Afghan sources, 10 to 12 training camps and hideouts of the JuA and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – including that of JuA commander Wali – and ammunition dumps have been destroyed in the blitz. “Fifteen to 20 terrorists, among them Commander Rehman Baba, have been killed and many more injured,” one Afghan source added.

Army decimates four Jamaatul Ahrar camps
Rehman Baba, a high-value target, was responsible for training suicide bombers and young terrorists. Sources said on Friday that four JuA terrorist camps – including one run by the group’s deputy chief Adil Bacha – had been decimated.

The outlawed TTP and its breakaway faction JuA have set up ‘safe havens’ across the border in Afghanistan which they use as a springboard for launching attacks inside Pakistan. The two groups have been behind most terrorist attacks in the country.

The security situation along the Pak-Afghan border in Khyber Agency remains fluid. An official of the local political administration said as many as 4,000 tribesmen living in the Shinpokh and Samsay villages of Shalman have been asked to evacuate. A day earlier 400 households in the Samsai area had been evacuated amid a military operation in the villages near the border with Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, fresh contingents of security forces have reached the bordering areas of Shalman, Rena and Parchao.

Pakistan shuts down border with Afghanistan
Pakistan shut the main Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan following a string of deadly attacks, including Thursday’s suicide bombing at the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in the country last week.
Long queues of container trucks were stranded on both sides of the border as transit trade between the two countries remained suspended due to their strained relations. Movement of people to and from Afghanistan is not allowed. However, border guards and political administration allow the transportation of corpses and bereaved families as a goodwill gesture.

Civilian Institutions Need to be Strengthened for Intel Gathering & Prosecution

Lahore, February 17: Strongly condemning the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and a series of terrorist attacks in the country over the last few days, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has demanded decisive crackdown on all manifestations of violence, especially in the name of faith.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Commission said: “HRCP is saddened and greatly alarmed by a renewed wave of deadly attacks, the latest of which on Thursday evening took a heavy toll on human life at the Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine at Sehwan Sharif.

“Unfortunately, we have been at similar junctures in our recent history. Perhaps things would have been different if the pledges made to crack down on all forms of hate speech and violence, on the basis of faith on those previous occasions, had been honoured.

“Irrespective of where the attackers blowing themselves up or pulling the trigger come from, assaults in rapid succession cannot take place without local support and facilitation networks. The people are justified in asking all those tasked with their safety and security what steps had been taken to preempt such violence and why they have not succeeded.

“As we mourn these latest victims of ideologies of hate, we are once again asking our children to undergo security trainings in their schools. No longer must the policy makers remain indifferent to non-implementation or selective pursuit of various aspects of the National Action Plan (NAP) on counter-terrorism. HRCP urges the state to use all the resources at its disposal for across-the-board and decisive action against the perpetrators of these inhuman crimes. It is important that no exception is made while proceeding against those promoting violence or discrimination in the name of faith. While we do not have the expertise to advise on security matters, it is obvious that relying solely on the military and paramilitary forces will not yield results without enhancing the policing and intelligence gathering capabilities of civilian forces.

“If these attacks are concluded to have a cross-border dimension, all efforts must be made to collaborate with neighbouring countries to pursue the mischief makers in order to deny sanctuary to them.”

Islamic State blast at famed Sufi shrine in Pakistan kills at least 73

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 73 people were reported killed and up to several hundred wounded Thursday when a suicide bomber struck inside a famous Sufi shrine in southeastern Pakistan while devotees were performing a weekly ritual dance, police and medical officials said.

The Islamic State, a Middle East-based militant group with allied outfits in Pakistan and Afghanistan, asserted responsibility for the blast through an affiliated news site.

The attack in the isolated rural town of Sehwan, in Sindh province, was one of the country’s deadliest bombings in a decade of terrorism, and it came after several successive days of violence that claimed 25 lives in all four provinces of Pakistan and two tribal areas.

On Monday, a suicide bombing in a crowded square in the eastern city of Lahore killed 13 people and injured scores. An affiliate of the Islamic State, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said in an email to journalists that it was the start of an operation targeting government agencies and sites. Pakistan formally complained to next-door Afghanistan on Wednesday, charging that the militants were operating from sanctuaries across the border. Late Thursday, army officials announced that the border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan would be closed until further notice for security reasons.

It was not possible to confirm, however, whether the Islamic State or a local affiliate had carried out the Thursday attack at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine. In August, when a bomb killed more than 70 people in the southwestern city of Quetta, both the Islamic State and an allied group claimed to be behind it. The Islamic State is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Troops were sent to the shrine and the surrounding areas, and Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, issued a statement appealing to the nation to remain calm. “Your security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed,” he said.

“Each drop of the nation’s blood will be avenged, and avenged immediately” he added. “No more restraint for anyone.”

Officials at a local hospital said they had received about 60 bodies and about 250 wounded people, including about 40 in critical condition. The Pakistani navy placed all naval hospitals in Karachi, the provincial capital, on special alert to receive patients. Sehwan has very limited rescue and hospital services.

Pakistan has often been accused of coddling some violent Islamist groups that serve as its proxies in India and at home, while cracking down on others that oppose the Pakistani state and unleash attacks on domestic targets. Recently, though, officials placed an extremist anti-India cleric under house arrest, calling it a policy decision by both civilian and military leaders.

Islamist militants, including the Pakistani Taliban, have attacked numerous Sufi shrines in recent years, deeming them anti-Islamic. In November, a Sufi shrine in Balochistan province was bombed, killing 45 people. Sufism is a more mystical strain of Islam, and many conservative Muslims view it as heretical. Sufi shrines welcome people from all walks of life, and offer free food and other charity to the poor. On Thursdays, the shrines host poetry readings and other gatherings.

On Thursday night, officials said that security had been increased at Sufi shrines across the country and that some had been temporarily closed, Pakistani news channels reported.

In addition to targeting Sufis, violent Sunni groups have often attacked Christians, Shiites and Ahmadis, a community that sees itself as a branch of Islam but is reviled by many Muslims. Political leaders in Punjab province have been accused of appeasing some sectarian groups there.

In Sindh, some political leaders have resisted pressure from security agencies and provincial officials to ban or place more controls on extremist Islamic groups and dozens of seminaries alleged to have ties with terrorist groups. Over the past decade, bombings across the province have targeted shrines, mosques and other sites.

While groups affiliated with the Islamic State, including Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, have become more active in Pakistan, they remain controversial among many local Islamist factions. Some such groups have seen their followers defect to the foreign-affiliated outfits, and others have distanced themselves from admirers linked to the Islamic State.

When Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed the recent Lahore bombing, it named its planned terror operation after the late leader of Islamabad’s famed Red Mosque, the scene of a dramatic army siege in 2007. But this week, leaders of the mosque denounced the ISIS affiliate as an “enemy of Islam” and said its actions were un-Islamic.

Mehdi reported from Karachi, Pakistan.

Taliban suicide bomber strikes Pakistan rally, killing 13

A suicide bomber struck police escorting a protest rally in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday, killing at least 13 people and wounding nearly 60 in an attack claimed by a breakaway Taliban faction.

The blast ripped through the crowd of hundreds of pharmacists, who were protesting new amendments to a law governing drug sales. Six police officers, including a former provincial counterterrorism chief, were among those killed, police said.

Police initially said the attacker was on a motorcycle, but provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah later said that closed-circuit footage revealed the bomber was on foot.

Sameer Ahmad, the Lahore deputy commissioner, said at least 13 people were killed and 58 wounded, including nine who were in critical condition.

Live TV registered a loud bang and showed smoke and fire billowing up as people ran away, some of them carrying the wounded.

“We just couldn’t understand what happened,” Tufail Nabi told local Geo News TV. “It was as if some big building collapsed,” he said as he limped away.

A group called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed the attack in a text message, saying it was revenge for Pakistani military operations against Islamic militants in tribal regions along the Afghan border.

The group, which claimed a number of large attacks last year, is one of several splinter factions from the Pakistani Taliban, which has repeatedly targeted security forces and religious minorities. In recent years, Pakistan has launched several offensives against the Taliban and other Islamic militants in the tribal regions.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to continue fighting terrorism “until we liberate our people of this cancer and avenge those who have laid down their lives for us.”

Washington condemned the Lahore attack and extended condolences to the victims and their families. “We stand with the people of Pakistan in their fight against terrorists and remain committed to the security of the South Asia region,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, a roadside bomb killed two members of a bomb disposal squad on the outskirts of the southwestern city of Quetta, said police officer Abdur Razzaq Cheema. Another eight people were wounded in the explosion, he said.

A Taliban-linked group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, said it planted the bomb.
Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Matthew Lee in Washington and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.